RALEIGH, N.C. -- It would be tough enough for the Penguins to accept wasting, say, an Evgeni Malkin hat trick.
Same with a 45-save performance by Ty Conklin.
But, when they're the beneficiaries of a Brooks Orpik goal -- turns out that isn't an oxymoron, after all -- and fail to the maximum possible mileage out, well, that hurts even more.
Which is at least part of the reason the Penguins' 4-2 loss to Carolina at the RBC Center last night stung the way it did. That the Hurricanes played with an obviously greater sense of urgency didn't help any, either.
"They were more desperate than us," center Maxime Talbot said. "And that can't happen."
The Penguins (32-21-5) have lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time since Dec. 11-13, although they remain first in the Atlantic Division and second in the Eastern Conference.
"It's no time to panic," Orpik said. "At the same time, everything's so tight that you can't let this become a habit."
Conklin had the night off, but the Penguins got strong goaltending from Dany Sabourin, who made 42 saves and allowed just one even-strength goal.
"Dany definitely deserved better," Orpik said. "It could easier have been a lot worse than the score showed."
Orpik did his part to hold down the Penguins' margin of defeat when, 13 minutes into the first period, he got his first goal in 181 games. That ended a drought stretching to Oct. 22, 2005.
"It's good to get the weight off your shoulders," he said. "But it definitely would have been nicer if it was contributing toward a win."
Orpik scored when he took a pass from Colby Armstrong and threw the puck past Carolina goalie Cam Ward from the top of the left circle.
Malkin, displaying a sense of humor that needed no translation, grabbed the puck for Orpik, but if Orpik's teammates really wanted to commemorate the event, someone would have gotten him the net.
Carolina played most of the game without center Rod Brind'Amour, who got a season-ending knee injury 84 seconds after the opening faceoff when he was sandwiched by Penguins forwards Georges Laraque and Nathan Smith along the boards at center ice. The anterior cruciate ligament in Brind'Amour's left knee was torn and is to be surgically repaired today.
Penguins forward Jeff Taffe, meanwhile, had his nose broken by a shot to the head from Carolina defenseman Joey Mormina during the second period and did not return.
Also, with a little more than five minutes left in the game, center Kris Beech injured his right wrist when Carolina defenseman Glen Wesley knocked him into the boards as Beech was preparing to play a puck behind the Hurricanes' net.
Wesley got an interference minor, Beech a set of X-rays. There was no immediate word on what they showed; team officials would say only that Beech's injury will be re-evaluated today.
The Penguins were unhappy with their wretched start during a 2-1 loss Wednesday to Boston at Mellon Arena, but that didn't prevent them from replicating it against the Hurricanes.
Erik Cole of Carolina opened the scoring during a power play at 3:13 of the first period, when he was unable to get out of the way of a Ray Whitney shot from the left point, and the puck caromed off him and past Sabourin.
After Orpik tied the score -- "We were lucky to get out of the first period, 1-1," he said -- the Penguins took their only lead of the evening on a power-play goal by Malkin at 2:37 of the second, as his pass to Ryan Malone hit Carolina defenseman Frantisek Kaberle and got behind Ward.
Eric Staal got that goal back for the Hurricanes during a power play at 10:36, and Ray Whitney put them in front to stay with a power-play goal at 3:45 of the third. That goal came 36 seconds after Talbot was assessed a holding penalty in the offensive zone, a call he disputed vigorously.
"It changed the game totally when they scored on that," Talbot said. "It was just a lack of judgment [by the referee]. He's got to make sure there was a grab or hold if he wants to call a penalty."
Ryan Bayda closed out the scoring at 11:39, allowing Carolina to seize first place in the Southeast Division despite relying on with a severely watered-down lineup.
"It tested us," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said.
"And the guys really persevered."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published February 15, 2008 5:00 AM